Free to let off steam

26th September 2003 at 01:00
Name Cashes Green primary school, Stroud, Goucestershire

School type 4-11 community school

Proportion of children entitled to free school meals

25 per cent

Improved results In past six years up from below average in maths and science to above average in both subjects

An old boiler room at a Stroud primary has become an area where young dudes can cool their heels - and behaviour. Martin Whittaker reports

Lunchtimes at Cashes Green school in Stroud used to be marred by poor pupil behaviour. And its playground was a desert of concrete and grass with little to occupy the children.

Today this has changed. The school is tackling behaviour issues after transforming an old boiler room into a brightly-coloured clubhouse called the Dugout, opening out on to picnic tables and parasols where children eat their packed lunches.

The Dugout is stocked with pens, pencils, paper, books and toys, and there is a raised area in one corner where kids can kick off their shoes and sit on cushions to read or play games.

It is run by Year 6 pupils, dubbed Dugout Dudes, who don brightly-coloured tunics and keep watch for boredom or signs of trouble.

"They have been absolutely excellent," says headteacher Carol Radcliffe.

"They can see children on the playground who don't have anything to play with.

"If somebody looks as if they're going to start trouble they ask them to come and play a game. And the children love the responsibility. We asked a couple of our Y5s what they were looking forward to in Y6 and they said the Dugout."

Cashes Green primary has fine panoramic views of rolling hills and fields.

But it also sits at the edge of a large housing estate in the otherwise largely affluent market town of Stroud.

The school has 175 pupils and accommodates a playgroup with 20 children. A quarter of pupils are eligible for free school meals, 31 pupils are on the special educational needs register and some children come in with serious behaviour issues.

Despite such challenges, its last inspection five years ago declared it an improving school with high expectations of behaviour, a supportive environment for learning, and hard-working and committed staff.

And pupil attainment has shown steady improvement - this year its results won it a Department for Education and Skills school achievement award.

In 1997-9 its three-year average percentage of pupils achieving level 4 and above were 45.8 in English, 61.1 per cent in maths and 69.4 per cent in science. The latest figures for 2001-3 show 71.1 in English, 74.2 in maths and 90.7 in science.

Cashes Green has also steadily built its reputation, selling itself as a caring community school while at the same time attracting increasing numbers from outside its immediate area.

Carol Radcliffe has been there a decade, initially as deputy head and then taking over as head five years ago. "We have a really excellent staff and we work as a team," she says. "That really is the key to it all."

Staff also get listened to. The idea of setting up the Dugout to try to tackle playground behaviour issues came from Naomi Briner, who joined the school just four years ago as a newly-qualified teacher.

"I used to have to spend a lot of my lunchtimes sorting out problems," she says. "I think a huge issue was the fact that children nowadays are used to having things to entertain them like computer games, bikes or whatever it might be.

"There wasn't anything. They were going out on the playground and there was a bit of grass and a bit of concrete and that was it.

"So in some ways I see it as changing with the times. We should be providing them with different stimuli out in the playground to meet their different needs."

This had been one of the inspectors' criticisms - that the development of pupils' motor skills was hampered by the lack of a supervised and fenced outdoor play area with a range of equipment.

But gradually the grounds of the school have been transformed to make them more child-friendly and fun.

A bank of hedges, where children once hid and got told off by dinner ladies, has been cut back and made into an adventure trail. There's a wildlife area with a pond, and a special play area is being created for early-years children.

The school has also appointed learning support worker Kate Lewis just for lunchtimes, and she is much more pro-active than a dinner lady. She teaches the children games, talks to them and helps resolve disputes.

Inside the 1950s buildings, an old caretakers' flat upstairs has been transformed into rooms for clubs and a new information and communications technology suite. The school has extended its services to offer breakfast and after-school clubs, family literacy and numeracy sessions, a summer school and adult education classes.

Carol Radcliffe stresses the importance of the school's community role.

Much of the landscaping work outside and painting inside has been done by young offenders on community service.

And the school is inviting non-pupils from the estate to help put up a new mosaic on an outside wall. Mrs Radcliffe says that such measures give local youngsters more of a stake in the school and help to reduce vandalism.

She also cites a close relationship with governors as a factor in the school's success. Chair of governors, Helen Brereton, works there as a childminder and says her own children flourished at the school.

She has served as a governor with three headteachers and has seen steady improvement. This she puts down to appointing the right staff.

She says Carol Radcliffe has built successfully on the work of the previous head, Tim Cooper, with whom she had collaborated as deputy to turn the school around.

"Before he came along we had no policies, nothing written and there was a lot of paperwork that needed organising. He came in at the time and he was the right man for the job. He and Carol worked brilliantly as a team.

"Then Carol addressed the other side of the coin, concentrating on the children's behaviour, the learning, the leading, the teaching staff.

"I feel that this school gives its all. If these children don't succeed it's in spite of the school, not because of it."

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